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Ecology Update

Every time Trustees takes on a new reservation, staff specialists conduct an assessment of the site’s ecology—including its flora and fauna, as well as habitat types and conditions—in order to establish a baseline record to compare against as time progresses and to identify habitats and species that may need to be managed or restored The FARM Institute (TFI) on Martha’s Vineyard became a Trustees-managed site in 2016, and our ecology team completed a full assessment earlier this year, with some unexpected results.. 

Grasshopper Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow

In addition to the birds, Ecology staff found a population of Sandplain Blue-eyed Grass—a member of the iris family and not actually a grass at all—along the pasture boundary. This is a grassland Species of Special Concern in Massachusetts that is provided regulatory protection under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act similar to the Grasshopper Sparrow, and the ecologists will be looking into how management can be adapted to benefit it. Equally exciting is the abundant milkweed found throughout the pastures. Both common milkweed and the ‘uncommon’ orange milkweed, or butterflyweed, are abundant and attract pollinators including native bees and monarch butterflies by the hundreds. Coastal habitats like TFI are especially important to monarchs as they migrate to Mexico in the fall.

As a result of these findings, Trustees Ecology, Agriculture, and FARM Institute staff are now creating plans for ways to manage the pastures more sustainably and improve conditions for both habitat and agricultural productivity. “We are thrilled to find that grazing and habitat can be compatible,” says Russ Hopping, The Trustees’ Director of Ecology. “Assessment results will help us determine updates to pasture management practices, which in turn will improve pollinator and bird habitat while maintaining a successful grazing program at the same time.” xx

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